UPPER PROVIDENCE — By the joyous and inspirited celebration to end the Pope John Paul II Golden Panther's match against Perkiomen Valley, one would have thought they had just won the PAC-10 championship. Obviously the time isn't right, the season going strong, but their celebration wasn't any less appropriate.
In a thrilling overtime win, the Golden Panthers won their first game of the season 2-1 over the visiting Vikings.
All season long, the Panthers have been right there. In their first six games, four of which have been determined by one goal. Monday afternoon's game was no exception. The main difference being that undefeated Boyertown owns one of those PJP losses, as do Owen J. Roberts and Upper Perkiomen, both of whom are jockeying for position at the top of the standings.
Needless to say, the Panthers were hungry for a W.
"These girls never give up,' said PJP coach Mark Beck. "We've had a lot of close games and these girls recognize the importance of what they can draw from a close game.'
Similarly to their other games this season, the Panthers started with an early deficit, albeit earlier than usual.
Just two minutes into play, PV's Laura Dunne beat out PJP junior goalkeeper Christine Germscheid to give the Vikings an early lead.
"This team is resilient. I didn't see any chins go down or shoulders drop at all,' Beck said. "Resiliency here is going to carry them through the rest of the season.'
Quick to recover, team captain Danielle Kiniry scored off an assist by Lauren Dao in the 30th minute to tie the game at one a piece.
"Usually when we let up the first goal, we hang our heads,' Dao said. "But this time the captains really stepped up and told us not to hang our heads.
"We scored the first goal which really kept our energy up.'
Throughout the second half, a grueling duel was waged between the two teams, with the Golden Panthers occupying much of regulation chipping balls deep into the Vikings' defensive zone but were unable to capitalize lest they go offsides. The Panthers were able to take the middle of the field and played "kick and run' to put pressure on the Vikings.
"We played to into their style ... and that interrupted our style of play,' said PV coach Kim Paulus. "It definitely made us panic more. I think we spent too much time playing into that instead of playing our game.'
Without their leading scorer — freshman Hannah Thomas, who has been out for four games with a groin injury — the Vikings have been flat on the offensive end. After winning their first two games, they have since dropped four straight to PAC-10 teams.
"Without Hannah it's been hard against some of the teams we should have been more successful against,' Paulus said. "At this point our team is struggling to finish.'
And while the Panthers kept possession deep in the opponents end of the field, it was the Vikings who had cleaner opportunities to score in the second half. A few costly turnovers allowed the Vikings to push three-on-two against Germscheid, who came up with brilliant save after brilliant save to give her team a fighting chance.
"This is (Christine Germscheid's) first year being the starter,' Beck said. "She has really stepped up as the varsity goalie and I am just so proud of her.
"Even when she gives up a goal, you never see her go down.'
The nail-biting did not subside in regulation time, as the teams entered overtime locked at one. However, just two minute into OT and Dao came through again.
On a direct kick from just outside the box, Dao sent a hard strike skimming over the heads of the Perk Valley wall, banked off the crossbar and into the goal.
"I knew I had to pick a corner, because (Perk Valley's) Kelly O'Brien is a really good goalkeeper; she would have gotten it right in the middle,' Dao said. "I just lined up, looked for a corner and struck it as hard as I could.'
"She's cool as an icecube,' Beck said of Dao. "You can't rattle her ... She's one of my strongest players with the ball at her feet.'
No sooner did the ball enter the net did the Panthers cue the celebration. Coach Beck was as enthusiastic, if not more, than the rest of his team, running onto the field toward the varsity players, arms raised screaming with glee — a picture his players will not soon let him forget.
"The girls have worked so hard. I just felt their excitement and enthusiasm and it just came out of me to get that first win,' Beck said. "I felt the same way they did, and it was like a weight was lifted off of us. I'm just so happy.'